I want my eventual death to be spectacular. I am an artist, so I want my funeral to be as pretentious and incoherent as possible. I want my coffin to be lined with black velvet, while a chorus of girls dressed from head to toe in bird feathers and black leotards sing a tabernacle choir version of Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” as somebody reads off my last internet browsing sessions before I died from having too much lesbian sex. Then, they’ll haul me off in a station wagon covered entirely in plant life to a grave where they’ll lower my coffin in as they toss glitter on top of it, ushering me into the gayest afterlife imaginable.
I’m saying this in a sort of tongue and cheek manner (though, now all I can think about is pretty bird girls in leotards), because art has allowed me to continue living. To categorize my illnesses into a multitude of mediums that allow expression where before there could be no expression. If I sat down and tried to talk openly about my mental health, people may become concerned, or not care, or not take me seriously. But, you write a tragic song, a moving novel, a intense film and suddenly everyone cares about the mental health struggle. We use art to provide insight into how sick we are, or at least I do.
And while this method hasn’t necessarily helped anyone else understand me or my plight, it’s at least helped me come to terms with myself and my issues. I’m an artist first. I’m a mentally ill person second. The two are terribly intertwined by this point, but that’s a good thing. There’s only two things I’ve had since I was a little girl; the arts and poor mental health. It only makes sense to prioritize them at this point, especially if I can put them together. For as long as I can recall, I’ve been doing art. For as long as I can recall, I’ve been doing art while everything in my life has been crumbling around me and I’ve been abused up and down and sideways. When I was in elementary school, I was so miserable and unhappy. None of the kids liked me for no particular reason, teachers continued insisting that I be tested for Autism, which my parents flat out turned down, and yet, at the end of the day, I would come home and I would draw or paint or write. I would create a world I could live in since the world I inhabited so clearly didn’t want me. Somewhere I could feel I belonged.
I want to be smothered by glitter. I want to drown in a sea of paint. I want to be hanged by yarn and wear a death mask made from papier-mache. I want to be remembered for what I’ve created, not what I suffered from.
I grew up in a rather cultured household, despite its paltry offerings of “love” and “acceptance” and “parental guidance”. My stepfather encouraged me to read, we went to broadway shows with rather good regularity, I took horse back riding lessons, and in elementary school, my class was taken to see a production of Madame Butterfly. Art, whether it was intended to be or not, was a pervasive feature of my youth, so much so that I gravitated towards it as a career goal.
While I’m not ashamed of my illnesses, as I stated in my previous article, I also do not wish for them to be the sole identifying factor of my identity. So many talented (not that I’m talented, I’m just using this as an example), intelligent (not that I’m intelligent either) people throughout history have become boiled down to that one factoid of remembrance instead of their lifes work. Bring up Sylvia Plath and instantly someone else goes, “Yeah, she shoved her head in an oven, didn’t she?”, and it’s like this for so many artists. Van Gogh has been reduced to nothing other than ear jokes. This stigma of mental illness is what these people are remembered for. Sure, we praise their writing and hang their paintings in museums, but in the end, they’re not brought up in regards to their work, they’re brought up with “Hey who was that person who died from doing [example]” instead of “Hey, who was that person who wrote/sang/painted [example], cause that was amazing and it’s a shame we lost them so early since they were so talented.”
Everyone knows who Kurt Cobain is. Everyone knows the music of Nirvana, even if only by proxy. But what do we really talk about? How he allegedly shot himself in the head and took his own life.
Artists, especially those struggling with mental health, strive to be so much more and maybe help people with what they create, even if unintentionally, and yet in the end, it seems that most are simply reduced to a blurb about how they died. Everyone knows about Elvis, sure, but everybody knows he died on the toilet. So yeah, art has been the single most common, ongoing thing throughout my life, and it’s helped me cope with or work out a lot of my own mental health problems that therapy and medication could not. As I said in my previous article, there’s nothing wrong with either therapy or medication, and if they help you then that’s wonderful, but art is what works for me.
I’m an artist. I just happen to be mentally ill.
Whether I like it or not, and thankfully I do, art has saved my life, but it also allows me to try and save the life of others around me who might be struggling with the same things that I do. I want what I make to reach out and comfort people, or give them a space so they don’t feel so alone, or simply give them a little bit of enjoyment even. That’s why even now, at the age of 28, and making no money off of it, I work day in and day out to continue pumping out content. Podcasts, blogs, fiction, poetry, comics, you name it. Because it keeps me alive, and if it can help keep someone else alive too, that’d be worth it all the more.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be successful. To be honest, I don’t really care. At least, not about being an artist. But I do care about being successful at keeping myself around, and that’s what art allows me to do. It allows me to keep myself around, so maybe I can help keep others around as well. When I do eventually die, and the people who do care and love me gather to give their last regards, I don’t want to them to remember me solely for my poor mental health, I want to those people to remember me for what kind of person I was to them, how I bettered their lives or impacted their beliefs, and what I left behind to show for my time here.
That, or my wicked ass funeral. Either one’s good.
[This is a repost of a Medium article]